A Big Game for the Young Guys

Sharon Thorsland
August 30, 2017 - 8:33 am

It's the preseason finale for the Panthers on Thursday, as they welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to Bank of America Stadium.

Kick-off is set for 7:30 on WBT, with the pregame show starting at 4:30.

The Steelers lost in the AFC Championship game last season, and are once again favored to win the AFC North and go deep into the playoffs. But we likely won't see many, if any, of the starters for Pittsburgh, probably not the Panthers either.

As it is every year, this game is for the guys fighting for a roster spot ahead of the cuts coming on Saturday. That means no Ben Roethlisberger, no Antonio Brown, and definitely no LeVeon Bell, who still hasn't signed his franchise tender. Instead, it will be Landry Jones directing the offense for the Steelers. Panther coach Ron Rivera is waiting until the last minute to decide if Cam Newton or any his starters will play. If not, it will be the Derek Anderson, Joe Webb and Garrett Gilbert show.

Two of the most competitive positions for the Panthers are at receiver and defensive line. This team is loaded with talent at receiver, with guys like Damierre Byrd, Austin Duke, Keyarris Garrett, and Mose Frazier battling it out.

“This is about as deep as a wide receiver group as we've had,” said Rivera. “Almost daily, when you get done watching the tape, you may move a guy around. Oh, this guy's here, next thing he's up here. You have to evaluate and that's what we're doing.” 

The Steelers will be doing the same thing with their offense, which also features a lot of talented receivers, including 2nd round draft pick JuJu Smith-Schuster. There is also plenty of depth at running back, with 4th year back Fitzgerald Toussaint, former Chiefs back Knile Davis, and rookie James Connor sharing the reps.

Both the Panthers and Steelers have outstanding linebacking corps, although Pittsburgh lost Pro Bowler Lawrence Timmons to Miami. But we probably won't be seeing any of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis or James Harrison and Ryan Shazier tonight – instead keep an eye out for guys like 2nd year player Jeremy Cash and Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt, the team's first round draft pick and younger brother of Houston star defensive end J.J. Watt.  

No matter who is on the field Thursday night, Rivera and the Panther coaches are looking for players to step up when the lights are on.  While they take into account a player's entire preseason body of work, including practice and games, Thursday night's game can be a make or break opportunity for guys. “This is about as much pressure as you get as far as opportunities,” said Rivera. “We're going to find out who is going to make the plays and be playmakers in that situation."


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